Tuesday, 3 November 2009

18th Blackwater Marathon

A few months ago we planned to head south for Halloween and spend time with Chris, Lisa, Sam, Ben, Jo-vis (Oliver's current pronunciation of Joseph) and Emma (The Waltons). I had decided to take the week off and Lisa asked us if we fancied heading down their on the Thursday instead of Friday so we accepted. We had looked for a race to do that weekend and of the 3 we found only one was off-road, the ‘18th BlackWater Marathon’ run by the Essex and Herts LDWA. I had been a little apprehensive about entering and had the option of just doing a 15 mile route instead of the 27 mile route most runners would be following. On the day we sent in the entry forms though I decided that I would try the full 27 miles. I’d put it into my head that it not a normal marathon, so because it’s being run by walkers then it’s a walkers marathon that you can run in, so walking is ok when I get tired. Plus Essex is pretty flat so surely I should be able to mange a little more distance than the 13/14 miles max I have done on the hills before??

Chris at the startMark at the startSo Saturday morning arrived and Chris and I headed out for Purleigh Village Hall. On arrival we parked and registered in the hall. Having never done an LDWA event I had assumed I would be given a map of the route (I had asked if I’d needed to bring my own and was told I shouldn’t need one if I didn’t have one) but no, I was give a set of instructions. These were step by step instructions of the whole route “….cross the field to the field corner and take a 1/2 right over the field to the stile…..”. We got a brew and a biscuit and they started to ready ourselves. The weather now decided that it was time to open the heavens and I wondered if I should change into my leggings but there wasn’t a cold wind with the rain so I stuck with the shorts and pulled out the waterproof top.

10AM quickly arrived and everybody moved outside to head off. There was no line up and go or race start type procedure, somebody just said “you can go now” and people just headed off. Chris had left something in the car so went to get that and then we both headed off across the road with our instructions in hand. As we entered the second field I reminded Chris that he needn’t stay with me and to run off as he really wanted to do, which he did. However as we entered the third field and we had already entered auto-follow mode, we nearly ended up following the 15 mile walkers instead of going left over the stile to the 27 mile route. That was a quick reminder to CHECK THE INSTRUCTIONS.

Now on the right path we crossed the first farmers field and I realised I had the wrong footwear on. I only have Fell shoes or Road shoes and I had assumed the route would have been mostly tracks and trail and opted for my road shoes. Crossing this first field, the wet mud was sticking to my shoes and making them heavier with each step along with the lack of traction, this was proving a difficult run. If anything it forced me to take my time which is what I needed to do anyway. Onward over fields, crossing roads following the detailed instructions happily trotted away at a comfortable pace to reach the seawall leading to Checkpoint 1 and by this point the rain had passed and the temperature was quite comfortable. I was hoping for a nice cup of tea at this point but only juice and biscuits were on offer. After a few biscuits and a photo I headed off.

The Seawall to CP1                                The start was 5.5 miles that way!                                At CP1

Now the instructions said I needed to continue on the sea wall for about 3.5 miles. The track I nearly missedSo I decided there was no need to read them for another 20-30 mins and just followed the path.Reading a little further on in the chapter it said I should reach Harlow Sailing Club so I just trotted on. Eventually I reached a group of 3 runners who seemed a little unsure where to go. I was convinced I needed to pass another sailing club so following the seawall path seemed like the sensible choice. I rounded the next corner and stopped to read the instructions again just in case, I’d also noticed that there was no sign of passing any sailing club soon. This is when I realised that the next three instructions I hadn’t read were describing the route I had already followed and the sailing club had already been passed soon after leaving checkpoint 1. When I read these I also realised that I should have noted down three letters at some point a bit back, but there was no way I was running back to get them. Next I realised that I should have turned down the path were the other runners were stood looking bemused. As I joined this path the runners had only just started to head off and as they looked back and saw me, it seemed to give them more confidence that they had made the right decision.

One person mentioned that the letters were ‘BWM’ (BlackWater Marathon) and they were good enough for me and I had noticed a couple of those signs as I ran along the sea wall. Soon there was a group of about 10 running together and we reached a point were nobody seemed to understand the instructions. Checkpoint 2Everyone just looking at the paper and wandering back and forth. As I made my decision another guy took the same path as me and everyone followed. I had so far managed to keep a good steady pace and was feeling quite pleased with myself but soon after this just as we approached Waiting at the Level Crossingcheckpoint 2 I could feel myself starting to fade a little and the pace dropping ever so slightly.

After a few drinks and more biscuits at checkpoint 2 (Still no Tea!) I headed off keeping to a gentle trot. Because I had stayed a little longer at the checkpoint the rest of the runners had now gone ahead of me and I only had myself for company. Across a few fields, a stint along a road, across the level crossing and it was back out onto another sea wall, at the end of which was checkpoint 3. The instructions said “…approx 4 miles…”. When I arrived at the sea wall (about 14 miles in) I was still running, but getting tired quickly. I managed to jog on for about 1 mile but it just proved to be too much. My Ham-strings and glute had started to ache and walk breaks became more and more frequent. The view along the seawall was also really boring and made it drag on. All in all the “…approx 4 miles…” took me the best part of about 1hr 10mins and at last a rest at checkpoint 3.


the start of the LONG seawall run. And the last photo!

I’m not sure what I looked like as I entered the village hall as I was asked by a couple of people if I was ok? Was I going to carry on? I have to say that by that point I had considered throwing in the towel a few times. My feet had started to ache a little too and I was convinced I had a blister forming right in the middle of the sole of my foot. Finally though, a cup of Tea and a plate of sandwiches. “Sandwich spread & Salad”, “Cheese and pickle” the signs read so as I don’t like pickle, I opted for the sandwich spread. Urgh!! It wasn’t sandwich spread, it was Coleslaw! I hate coleslaw more than pickles! I gave up on the butties and headed for the cakes. MMMmm nice chocolate cake :-)

Heading off for Checkpoint 4, the running was hard. Muscles still aching and my foot getting sorer I must have looked funny running at such a slow pace (when I could run). The route now was back over farmers fields and through woods so the scenery changed regularly. After this the running spells were less frequent, the uneven made the ache in my foot worse and I swore I could feel the blister getting bigger. My other foot started to ache a little now but it didn’t feel like a blister. I think my left shoe was a better fit than my right! At the top of the only “incline” of the route it tells you to look back at the view of the river. I did but it wasn’t that impressive after views in the lakes. In fact the view from Winter Hill far far surpasses it. Finally though I approached checkpoint 4 and more juice and biscuits.

With only just over 4-5 miles left from here I had no more thoughts of retiring, but I had started to get over emotional. Only twice have I been emotional like that. Once after Kentmere and once after Wherenside where I didn’t have the best of runs, really struggling towards the end and feeling myself start to well up after crossing the finishing line, however I managed to hold it back whilst shovelling more biscuits and juice down me.

The final leg now and off i ran/walked/hobbled (delete as appropriate). The route was getting a little busier now as I caught up to walkers (albeit very slowly caught them up). It wasn’t getting more difficult as I went, the discomfort was pretty much the same for the rest of the route now., although climbing over the stiles was getting harder on my feet which by now was murdering me. I’d started to have visions of me peeling skin off with my socks at the end. Finally though the finishing was in sight as I joined the road leading to the Purleigh Village Hall. Chris's at Halloween!As I rounded the last corner I could see Chris stood at the gat waiting for me. I’d been running/hobbling for the last 10 mins to just get it over with and as I passed Chris he said “You can stop running now!” but I just wanted it over so carried on running until I passed the doors of the village hall. I handed my card in to the desk and headed out to the car. Chris asked if I wanted a brew as I passed him, which I did and I headed straight out of the hall to the car.

That was it, I’d finished the 27 miles in 6hrs 39mins. I stood at the back of the car and burst into tears, I could stop myself. Even when Chris came out with the cup of tea I was still going. All he could do was laugh at me but ne says it was because he knew exactly what I was going through. Once I calmed down I needed to get he shoes off and see what state they were in. I gently took my left soft off as that wasn’t hurting as much and search for a blister to find I had got away without one. Now the right foot. again slowly i rolled the sock over my foot and was shocked to to see ..nothing! No lumps or loose skin. It looked like there was a groove in my foot but no tear or anything. Not really sure what it was but it was painful and I’m thankfully I got away without the blister.

After a few brews and some cheese butties (I decided against the Jacket potato) I collected my certificate and we headed back to Chris’s for Halloween and an Indian. The Indian went down really well and really quick. Later, as we sat relaxing, Oliver woke up crying so I lay down in the bed next to him. Not quite sure which one of use fell asleep first.

Sunday Morning came and the problems started. I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t walk properly. I was generally in agony, as long as I didn’t move I was fine. If a doctor had seen me I swear they’d have given me a mobility scooter!

Could I get any sympathy? Could I hell!!


GPS Tracking GPS Tracking before battery died!


  1. Thanks for posting. I'm going to give it a go next month...

    1. You should, it's a goof long route! I have other things on that weekend and won't be down south. Although Chris may do it?